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Belarus jails girlfriend of dissident blogger seized after Ryanair plane crash-landed

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Belarusian justice sentenced Sofia Sapega, the companion of a dissident detained on a Ryanair flight, to six years in prison for “incitement to social hatred”.

The 24-year-old Russian citizen was with her boyfriend Roman Protasevich, a critic of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, on a flight from Athens to Vilnius in May 2021 when he was diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities.

Belarus claimed it responded to an anonymous tip that a bomb was on board the plane, but this later turned out to be false.

The theft incident sparked international outrage and led the European Union to impose new sanctions on Belarus.

“I’m sorry for Sofia and her family. No one should suffer from the dictatorship,” exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter after Friday’s verdict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sapega would get help, but declined to comment on the sentencing itself.

“She is a Russian citizen, so in any case, through our diplomats and other channels, we will continue to protect her legitimate interests,” he told reporters on a conference call. .

Asked if he thought the verdict was fair, Mr Peskov said: ‘We don’t much like anyone commenting on the decisions of our courts, so we won’t comment on the court’s decision in Belarus friend.”

Mr. Protasevich has not yet been tried and the status of the investigation against him is unclear.

The blogger fled Belarus in 2019 and previously worked as an editor for Polish channel Nexta Live on the Telegram messaging app. The channel is openly hostile to Lukashenko and played a significant role in coordinating opposition protests in 2020.

The mass protests were sparked by anger over what the opposition called a rigged presidential election that gave Lukashenko his sixth term in office.